Franklin County officials are tasked with building a 2020 budget that looks similar to 2019, which levied 62.91 mills and expenditures of $29.1 million.
Janet Paddock, county clerk/financial officer, said the budget process is never taken lightly and the department heads work diligently to keep their budgets flat as possible.
“The process is extensive,” Paddock said. “All the different levels of review that we go through to make sure everyone has had eyes on it and we know we are preparing a good solid budget that we can bring to the citizens of Franklin County. We are working really hard to keep that flat.”
Derek Brown, county administrator/counselor, said there is a lot of give and take as the budget is being discussed.
“We certainly make some nips and tucks,” Brown said. “Everyone realizes that our goal is to keep taxes flat and alleviate as much of the burden on taxpayers as we can.”
The department heads and elected officials met recently with Brown and Paddock to submit budget proposals for their departments. On Monday and Tuesday, they present those proposals to the county commissioners.
“We will review all those budgets so we can make sure the commission knows right where each department is at and make an informed decision on their budgets,” Paddock said.
Brown said those meetings give the commissioners a first glimpse at the 2020 budget.
“It is substantially similar to what you saw last year,” Brown told the commissioners Wednesday. “There are not very many big ticket requests. We will go through every line of that on Monday and Tuesday. In terms of individual departments, I am very pleased with the budgets that they brought. We are off to a good start.”
After those meetings, officials will begin constructing a proposed budget on paper.
“Derek and I will start formulating that into the budget worksheets and bring back a proposed budget to the commissioners on what a potential levy tax amount looks like,” Paddock said. “It does take a long time.”
The end result is a budget, which will be voted on by the commissioners in August after a public hearing. Between now and then, Brown said there will be some tweaks and a lot of discussion.
“It is not as easy as just looking at your expenses because there is the whole valuation portion of the budget,” he said. “We still don’t know what all that is going to look like because we have not put that piece of the puzzle together. Controlling your expenditures is only one portion in keeping taxes flat.”
All city and county governments are controlled by a state tax lid, which limits the growth of the budget to the Consumer Price Index. This year’s CPI is 1.5 percent.
“The tax lid literally keeps us from going up more than roughly 1.5 percent,” Brown said. “If we wanted to go above that, we would literally have to put it to a vote of the people. We don’t have anything like that on the immediate horizon. I am hoping we don’t push that 1.5 percent. I am hoping we stay flat. We have stayed flat since we have been doing these budgets.”
Paddock said each county’s budget is eyed by state officials to ensure they stay within the tax lid.
“We have to submit a detailed worksheet that tells our computation to make sure we stay within that law,” Paddock said. “There are people in the legislature that are watching that. We are making sure we are well within that.”
Brown said guessing what the level of expenditures may be 12-18 months in advance can be challenging.
“A great example of those unknown expenses is health insurance,” Brown said. “We never know the costs of what health insurance is going to be. That is a huge portion of the budget we have to speculate. We do our best to budget that appropriately, thus far we have been pretty successful in doing that. It is not like we have a concrete list of what every single one of our costs in 2020 is going to be.”
Another example was fuel cost. Brown said it is impossible to gauge if fuel will be a up or down year from now or how much rock will be needed to repair roads in 2020.
“When we were doing this last year, we were not anticipating having a winter and spring like we had this year,” Brown said. “It is not an exact science, but we do the best we can.”
Brown said other expenses that are hard to judge are items that go through the bid process such as equipment, vehicles and chip-seal projects.
“When we budget for those bigger expenditures, we do budget assuming there is going to be a slight increase,” Brown said. “That is somewhat unpredictable.”
Brown and Paddock keep an eye on the current budget as well.
“It is something that requires a lot of monitoring,” Brown said. “We run month end reports at the end of every month for every department. We ask our department heads and electeds to stay on top of those. Every month throughout the year we know what percentage this particular budget has been used. There are times where any given line might be over what is allocated. The key is making sure we can make up for that in other lines.”
County officials said the budget numbers are not thrown together without a lot of scrutiny.
“We want to provide the best possible services we can in a fiscally responsible manner,” Brown said. “That does require some balancing. We are cognizant of the burden that could be placed on taxpayers. We want to limit that as much as we possibly can.”